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BOSTON 200 NEIGHBORHOOD HISTORY SERIES
Henry Adams, the nineteent
tury philosopher, said that the
of America is not the history c
few, but the history of the mai
people of Boston's neighborho(
accepted the challenge of Ada
statement to produce "people'
tories" of their own communit
Hundreds of Bostonians forme
mittees in each of fifteen neighl
of the city, volunteering their ti
the past year and a half to res
in libraries, search for photogr
produce questionnaires, transc
tapes, assist in writing and edi
most important, act as intervit
and subjects of "oral history" r
These booklets are not traditic
textbook histories, and we hav«
tempted to cull a statistical sai
We have simply talked with oi
neighbors, people who rememl
sometimes with fondness, some
with regret, but always with w
For each of us has his or her o
story to tell, and these stories ;
to the development of our nei^
hoods and our city.
© 1976, The Boston 200 Corp(
Boston 200 is the city's official pro_
to observe the Bicentennial of the
American Revolution from April i(
through December igyG.
Kevin H. White, Mayor
Katharine D. Kane,
President, The Boston 200 Corpo
I Beacon Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02108
CHARLES TO WN
/^HARLESTOWN, as a British historian has said,
the mother of Boston" — hut the relationship l^e-
en the two has l)een more Hke that (jf sisters, with
interdependence of a family, as well as occasional
ily scjuabbles. '"C'harlestown \\ as a city in itself be-
lt was annexed to Boston,"' as Mary Gillen asserts,
it has always maintained pride in its independence
Clharlestown is older than Boston —English settlers
It a year here before mos ing across the river. But
)re there was ever a Charlestown, the peninsula at
mouth of the Clhai les River was home to a group of
pie called the Pawtuckets, a branch of the Saga-
•e tribe. They called their land Mishawum, or
at vSpring, after a fresh-water fountain which was
ntually overrun by tidewater. Their chief was
lepashemit. At his death, most of his power passed
lis widow, so when the English arri\ ed, they found
peninsula largely imder the rule of a cjueen, the
law Sachem. Although the queen and her people
e friendly to the white settlers, they did not official-
ubmit to the colonial government for almost fifteen
rs. Nanepashemit's son, Wonoquaham, "Sagamore
n" of Mystic, who go\'ei7ied part of the peninsula,
easily anglicized. It was he who warned of an at-
tack planned hy a neighboring tribe, so that the colo-
nists would be cjuick to build and fortify their meeting-
house on Town Hill.
The first Englishman to reside in Mishawum uas
Thomas Walford, a hermit who lived in a thatched hut
at the same time the Reverend William Blackstone was
setting up his farm across the river in Shawmut. The
explorer John Smith had visited the area and mapped
out the coast and river.
For several years, a number of royal subjects
squabbled over the rights to the territory. Many people
had claims on it, all apparently legal. In the meantime,
a group of men from Salem decided to settle on the
peninsula and reinff)rce their claim with "scjuatter's
rights." On July 4, 1629, Prince Charles granted the
area status as an independent town and bestowed his
name upon it.
The new citizens planned their home carefully, al-
loting parcels of land bounded by stone fences, living
in tents until they could build wooden houses and or-
ganizing a representative government called the
"Courts of Assistants."
Charlestown was small, its land was difficult to
farm, and it lacked a good source of fresh water. Wil-
liam Blackstone invited the despairing colonists to
)NT cover: The showers at the old Charlestown Park Beach now called Dewey Beach, c. igio
IDE cover: Boy diving from Warren Bridge, 1^)40' s
Painting by C. S. Coburn of the Charlestown Ferry which was established in .
come to live with him in Shawmut, which they re- On his midnight ride in April 1 775, the silversr
named Boston. Only about 35 settlers stayed in Paul Revere stopped in Charlestown to borrow a h
Charlestown: they would become the core of the de- from Deacon Larkin so he could warn the country
veloping community. that "The British are coming." Larkin lost his h
By the middle of the century, Charlestown had that night. When the British captured Revere, they
grown into a fairly independent entity. Many different cided to keep the horse as a cavalry mount,
types of craftsmen used their skills to build the town — Charlestown was the scene of one of the most gl
mid-seventeenth-century Charlestown boasted coo- ous defeats of history. The Battle of Bunker Hill 1
pers, glaziers, joiners, wheelwrights, potters, ship- the British more than the Americans and proved
Wrights, tanners, tailors, tile makers, rope makers and, Americans could defend their liberties against supe
happily, brewers and distillers. A thriving mercantile numbers of disciplined and well-trained British
section grew up along the waterfront. A ferry ran daily diers. But the ljurning of the town in the British att
to the town of Boston. The main street connecting the left practically nothing of the 156-year-old town. '
ferry wharf to the waterfront soon spawned houses, British Annual Register reported:
shops and a busy marketplace.
By the time of the American Revolution, Charles- The fate of Charlestown was also a matter of melancholy
town was a prosperous seaport with high economic templation to the serious and unprejudiced of all parties
Stakes in the success of the American cause. It was to Charlestown was large, handsome, and well built, both in res
play a primary role in the war for independence. to its private and public edifices; it contained about four hun^
ouses, and had the greatest trade of any port in the province, ex-
ept Boston. It is now buried in ruins. Such is the termination of
luman labor, industry-, and wisdom, and such are the fatal fruits
f civil dissensions.
Refugees began returning after two years; by 1780
hey had rebuilt 289 houses.
The transition from v illage to town to city was rap-
1. As Charlestown multiplied in population, it de-
feased in area, until the territory that had once in-
luded parts of Woburn, Cambridge, Maiden, Everett,
toneham, Medford, Somerville, Winchester and Ar-
ngton, as well as Lovell's Island, had shrunk to a pen-
isula of one square mile. The town flourished as a port
uring the Golden Age of Sail. Many sea-captains built
rand homes for themselves on its imposing hills. In
1802, the United States Navy established its second
shipyard in Charlestown. The Navy Yard brought
fame to Charlestown for the many famous vessels built
here. Perhaps more importantly, it brought jobs for
some of the thousands of immigrants arriving in Bos-
Of the foreign-born population in Boston at mid-
nineteenth century, 85% were Irish. Many of these
Irish immigrants, particularly those from Donegal,
settled in Charlestown, attracted by dockside jobs.
They lived in \vorking-class houses which sprang up in
the valleys and sections away from the harbor. As the
Irish moved in, most of the old Yankee families moved
out: by the turn of the century Charlestown was almost
Annexation of the city of Charlestown to Boston in
John Boyle O^Rei
1874 helped speed changes that were already in prog-
ress. Many of the wealthy, fearing the power the im-
migrants would have in a mushrooming Boston, left for
the new suburbs, accelerating the transition of political
power. As the Irish took over the city government,
Charlestown people sought some of the action and en-
tered local talent into the Boston political arena. One
of Charlestown's most powerful citizens was not a poli-
tician but a journalist and poet, John Boyle O'Reilly.
A patriot and political exile from Ireland, O'Reilly, as
editor of the Irish newspaper the Boston Pilot, helped to
legitimize the aspirations of the new Irish elite. The
fiery oratorical tradition of O'Reilly and his compatri-
ots, the Charlestown Irish "pols," continued into the
twentieth century. Many town residents recall torch-
light parades, street-corner rallies and political one-up-
manship. And they remember how their political tra-
dition initiated a young, scrawny but spunky politici;
who moved from a Charlestown congressional seat
the White House as the first Irish president of t
Twentieth-century Charlestown has experienc
economic booms and hard times. Because of the ii
portance of the Navy Yard to the area's econorr
Charlestown has felt the currents of the economic ti
in a more exaggerated way than the rest of the cil
During the wars, the town's population burgeom
with new workers and ships' crews; post-war perio
brought unemployment and deterioration.
In the last decade, despite the hardship of the Na
Yard's closing, Charlestown has moved into a period
resurgence. It took concentrated work for the town
get where it is today. In the 1960's, a period of u
heaval came to Charlestovvn when the district was de-
clared an urban renewal area. The original plan, re-
commending the demolition of over half the town's
dwellings, generated intense community protest. Many
people were forced out of their homes, never to return.
Through hard experience, Charlestown has learned to
deal with planners, to articulate community needs and
to implement plans that will retain the neighborhood's
character. Bunker Hill Community College has
opened, low income and elderly housing has been
built, new businesses have come to town and the de-
spised "El" is finally only a memory.
Many new residents have come to Charlestown in
the last decade — young professionals who are rehabili-
tating the area's fine old homes. Property values have
skyrocketed, and rents as well, creating problems for
some longtime residents and young Charlestownians
who want to remain in the town.
One new resident describes the attraction of the
town this way:
"Charlestown has a special charm of its own. People trusting
' -ach other. There's always been trust among neighbors: they go
^ o each other and help one another and support one another when
t's needed. I think this will continue as a dominant character-
Despite changes and uncertainties, residents hope
:hat the character that is Charlestown will remain in-
u ;act into the coming decades, that Charlestown will not
brget what it has been and what it is. The best way to
• anderstand Charlestown is to listen to some of its citi-
' ;ens. Taken together, their memories paint a vivid ver-
oal picture of Charlestown's life through the i goo's.
i 'Locally, Vve always been political,'''' says Mary Gillen.
She named one of her five children after Maurice Tobin, a
former Mayor of Boston, and another after Robert Lee, the
' late Charlestown Representative. Maurice, who lives next door
3 to his mother, has followed her footsteps and is active on many
■ community boards; another son. Brother Francis, resides in the
Vatican. Mary is proud of all of her children, whom she says
''will always be Townies." She talks of her family back-
ground, saying "we always had a lot of fun."
"My mother settled here when she came from Ire-
land. She applied to be a cook on Auburn Street and,
as she was just about to ring the doorbell, she saw a
little notice inside the window, 'No Irish Catholic need
apply.' So she turned on her heels and went back to the
agency. She went to work for the famous Stickney &
Poole on Seasoning Street. She worked with them un-
til she was married. As a matter of fact, my parents
\sere married at the Saint Francis de Sales Church. I
was baptized there and my father was buried from
there, so you'd call us real Townies — we're very loyal
to the town.
"My father was, well, in the old days, you'd call it
a bartender for Mike Riordan, whose son-in-law, Tom
Flaherty, was a famous Congressman from this district.
The store was on Medford Street.
"On Saturday nights, as a little girl, it was quite
famous to get dressed up and go with mother. Horses
and teams parked along Main Street, with the vege-
tables and all sorts of things. For us youngsters, it was
an outing, a ritual, something like the North End mar-
ket district is now.
"The Irish originally came from the North End.
Charlestown was all Yanks, very proper. The houses
on Auburn Street that are now three-families were
one-family with servants. When the Irish started mov-
ing into Charlestown, the Yanks started moving out.
Then the Italians came, but the Irish were here first.
Their children grew up and haven't left the town. The
old Irish called us 'Narrowbacks,' the descendants of
"I remember skating at Sullivan Square. We didn't
ride the streetcar which cost five cents. We really en-
joyed our skating; we had a wonderful time. Then, as
we grew older, we went to dances. Wherever we were
dancing, we saw everybody we knew, ceiling to floor.
The dance floor was called a spring floor. I think there
vere only two or three of them in Massachusetts. The
iarn poor building — I think it's a factory or something
ike that now.
"My husband also was Charlestown born and bred,
^e was quite a basketball referee. We used to have
■ery famous basketball games every Saturday night at
he high school against different councils throughout
:he city. Our big rivals were Pere Marquette, Southie
' ind the Fittons from East Boston. After the games, my
lusband and I went dancing.
"I met him at the basketball games. He came from
he hill section and I was a valley girl. The area near
t. Catherines's was called 'the Point' and around Sul-
ivan Square, 'the Neck.' Everybody came to know ev-
I;rybody else at dances and basketball games.
"Charlestown was an excellent place to raise chil-
Iren. My mother was widowed when I was a year and
■"ve months; she was extremely strict. When I grew up,
was extremely strict with my children and they're
one the worse for it. When they started school, I said
o the nun, you can give them the stick whenever they
leed it, because they'll never come home and tell me
ibout it or I'll give it to them again. I never had a
)roblem with my children and they're bringing their
hildren up the same way . . . of course, growing up, I
magine they resented it.
"The town is seeping with history. This is Bunker
iill, where the Monument is. The Battle of Bunker
iill was fought on Breed's Hill. Bunker Hill really has
lo value historicallv, only that it's Bunker Hill, the top
)f the hill.
"On the seventeenth of June, Bunker Hill Day,
eople came from far and near. We saw people who
ad moved out of Charlestown twenty, thirty years he-
re. On the night before the seventeenth, the Armory
as the place to be. Tickets were very reasonable, two
ollars; the city paid the rest of the expenses. The en-
ertainment was fabulous. It was a great night for the
joliticians who would be running in September. You'd
)e sure to see them all.
"It was an all-night affair. At twelve o'clock, we
went to Sullivan Square to see the fireworks. It was like
two o'clock in the afternoon — everybody walking
along, saying hello, talking.
'"Then, in the morning, the doll carriage parade for
the children, with lollipops and ice cream. W'e had a
marvelous 'Horrilale' in which the residents of Charles-
town dressed as bears, clowns, Tarzans.
"There were band concerts at Sullivan Square,
square dancing at Hay Square and St. Catherine's. So
it was the whole week. Every house was open; people
walked in and they were \\elcome. Everyone was so
so happy to see folks.
"The rallies in Charlestown were fabulous! The
night before election all the candidates arrived in City
Square. Everyone headed for City Square. People who
formerly lived in the to\sn headed for City Square.
They would get out of the elevated and stand on the
platform. The square was jammed with people. James
Michael Curley always made sure he was the last and
even if it was half-past-two in the morning, everyone
waited for him.
"The elevated has been running for the last 30
years. My mother rode in it when it was first built, she
was one of its first passengers. I would like to be one of
"That's really what is holding us up now — the ele-
vated. Charlestown is going to be tremendous with all
this redevelopment — people have taken such interest in
doing over their homes. The absentee landlords just
collected rent. They didn't care. They let homes go un-
til they were just falling apart. We got after them; the
city got after them. As a result they were torn do%vn
and people built new houses.
"People let Charlestown slide because they felt,
what's the use? Then they saw other people fixing their
homes and they started in. It's the pride in the town
now to have your house done.
"It's amazing. You will never, never find a "lor
rent' or 'for sale' sign. Once in a blue moon you might,
oil Carriage Parade on Bunker Hill Day, ig^y
but it's snatched right up. People out of town want to
come back. They had no interest in it before, when
they Hved here. They feh the town was dying. Now
they see what a difference it makes, when everybody
takes an interest. Charlestown will once more be very
beautiful. I won't live to enjoy it, but my grandchil-
"I say: when I leave here, they'll haVe to carry me
One of Mary's sons, Robert, is a Lieutenant Commander in the
Navy, now stationed at Virginia Beach. Mary talks about him
"My son Robert — going into the Navy from En-
glish High School taking courses, coming up the lad-
der to a Lieutenant Commander — it's a lot of hard
work. He's married to the most wonderful girl, my
Paula. She's from Dublin. When he was in Africa, he
wrote home and said, I have a chance to go to Jeru-
salem or Ireland. Which would you prefer me to take?
I wrote back and said, 'Go to Ireland and visit where
your grandmother lived and see the forge where your
grandfather used to shoe horses.' When he and another
young sailor got to Dublin, the train for Cork was
gone, so he said to the clerk in the hotel, 'How can a
couple of Yanks spend the evening?' He sent them to a
dance. There was my fair Paula. Then he went down
to Cork and visited his grandmother's and saw the old
homestead. I was very proud because I knew I'd never
see it. After that he used to take trips to Dublin to see
Paula. When he was transferred back to Washington,
he had to take trips to England; he'd always drop over.
So they were married.
"She's the most wonderful person. Robert may
have had the brains to study and he really put his time
into it, but Paula deserves credit too, because she was
willing to go along with it. A lot of girls will reject the
idea of all that time and study.
"When he became an officer in the Navy, my son
wrote his thesis on the subject he knew best, Bunker
Hill. As a little boy, he used to recite the history oft
Monument. Nobody taught the boys that history, th
had to overhear it and learn it for themselves."
In an excerpted section of the thesis Robert wrote for Office _
Training School, he gives a picture of the resourcefulness
youth and the continuity of an oral tradition reminiscent of i'
old "shanachies," the story-tellers of Ireland:
"The industrious young boys of Charlestown der
onstrated the same resourcefulness associated with tli
men who fought at Bunker Hill. A number of youthi
ranging in age from six to sixteen, gather on the ste
leading up to the Monument. They are there to eai
money by reciting the history of the Monument to tl
great number of tourists who visit it each year.
"The history has been gleaned from a number •
sources, refined through usage and developed by th
youths of Charlestown over a period of many years, ui.
til it is now a concise synopsis of the history of the Bur;
ker Hill Monument.
"If a boy has an older brother or friend who is wii
ling to teach him the history, he is fortunate. Mos
youngsters go through a very difficult apprenticeship,
contingent upon two things: to learn the history; sec
ond, daring. Usually, the only method of learning th
history is to eavesdrop while one of the older boys re
cites it. Each boy who has learned the history does hi
utmost to keep newcomers from learning it. The new
comer is chased away from a car when the history is be
ing recited to its occupants. He is chased away fron
the ever-decreasing number of tourists who ventun
forth on foot.
"There are only two approaches a youngster car
take to eavesdrop successfully while the history is beint
recited. He might boldly place himself beside an oldeii
boy who is reciting the history. This leads to many ar
altercation. With a fast left and a strong right, he car
sometimes overcome his first hurdle. This course of ac-
tion is hazardous. Realizing after a series of bloody
noses and blackened eyes that his fast left and strong;
Top of the
Bunker Hill Monument
with a view
of Charlestown, igsj
ght will not serve him in all cases, he soon comes
bout to a new tack.
■'The wisest course of action, and one by which the
ewcomer saves face, literally and figuratively, is to
eep away from a car when the recitation begins and
len casually approach it on the side opposite his re-
ictant instructor. With the voice of an innocent cher-
b, the youngster asks the oldest person in the car, pre-
rably a woman, if it will be alright for him to listen,
nvariably the answer is, 'Why certainly!' Not want-
ig to jeopardize his position ... at this point, the an-
ry young orator continues the recitation at as fast a
ace as possible, exactly as the newcomer hoped. The
ccupants ask the orator to repeat a portion of the his-
)ry, which is then firmly implanted in the spongelike
lind of the newcomer.
"When the young orator has finished, there is a
loment of silence until the woman nudges her com-
anion and whispers, 'Give him a tip.' Our aspiring
ewcomer is off and running. In most cases, he has too
much of a head start to be chased but, occasionally, if
he has aggravated the same orator too many times, a
race follows that sometimes lasts for hours. In the Bos-
ton School track meets, Charlestown High School wins
"Slowly, surely, sometimes painfully, the newcom-
er learns the history. The oldest and biggest boys are
the ruling class. If one of them decides that a youngster
knows his history well and is industrious, he may spon-
sor him. The newcomer's duties include detecting ap-
proaching cars before anyone else and reporting them
to his sponsor. The sponsor observes the approaching
car. If it looks promising, he recites the history himself
The make, model, age and particularly the state of reg-
istration, play an important part in evaluating the
car's potential. Out-of-state cars have good potential
and the sponsor usually will reserve them for himself
He also reserves all expensive cars. Occasionally, the
newcomer recites the history himself For example, the
newcomer spots an approaching 1 940 Ford with Mass-
Carriages passing the Edes house at the corner of High and Elm Streets in a June lyth parade, i8g^
achusetts license plates. His sponsor decides that it
probably won't be worth too much and allows the
eager newcomer to recite:
'This monument stands two-hundred and twenty-one feet in
height. It has two-hundred and ninety-four winding stairs and no
elevator. It is buik entirely of pure Quincy granite, hauled here
from the quarries of Quincy on the first horse-drawn railroad ever
built in this part of the country. The statue you see on the fore-
ground is that of Colonel William Prescott who is said to be stand-
ing in the same attitude and position as when he gave his most
famous and bravest command: 'don't fire, boys, until you see
THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES. AIM LOW AND PICK OFF THE OFFICERS
FIRST.' At this command, more than twenty-five percent of th
British officers were killed or wounded. The British made thre
attempts to gain this hill. The first two were unsuccessful. On th
third attempt, the Americans ran out of ammunition and, usin
their rifles as clubs, were forced to retreat. Marquis de Lafayette
a French ally and also a French General, laid the cornerstone ii
1825, while young Daniel Webster gave the oration for the day
'Let it rise, let it rise until it reaches the sky for the brave men wh'
have fought and died here.' This hill is really not Bunker Hill, it i
Breeds Hill. Bunker Hill is three-quarters of a mile northwest ii
that direction (youngster points), containing no historical valui
whatsoever. This hill was three times its present height when thi
battle took place but has been cut down to its present size, and th(
irt taken from it was used to fill in Morton's Point, which is now
nown as the Charlestown Navy Yard. They say the quickest way
p this monument is to walk up, and the quickest way down is to
ill down ... it takes two weeks to recover from the bump. (Al-
ways leave 'em laughing.)'
"Dumbfounded by the flow of facts and figures the
Iriver often asks: 'How did you ever learn all that?'
ind 'Why did you go to all the trouble?' The lad an-
wers the first question, 'By studying very hard.' Then,
olemn- faced, he answers the second question: 'To
;arn tips by reciting it to tourists.' There is hardly a
ase on record where this reply did not reap a good-
ized tip, twenty-five or fifty cents.
"The youngster reports back to his sponsor. If the
ip was twenty-five cents, he is allowed fifteen cents for
limself If the tip was fifty cents, it is divided equally.
Vhile this is more than acceptable at first, it isn't too
ong before the lad realizes the injustice he is suffering,
n a short time, the largest tip he reports is fifteen
:ents; a dime for him and a nickel for his sponsor.
"The sponsor takes the young lad aside and ex-
)lains the rewards of being honest and the conse-
[uences of holding out. It isn't long before the talk
vears off. Eventually, all newcomers slip back into the
labit of reporting fifteen cents as the largest tip.
"The sponsor then uses a different approach. 'If
'ou are honest with me the rest of this summer, I will
3ut you up next summer.' The newcomer is over-
oyed, for to be 'Put Up' means he will be his own
)oss and can retain the entire amount of any tip he re-
eives. If the newcomer is exceptionally shrewd he
igrees, provided the sponsor will take him along on all
he guided tours around Boston that he talks tourists
"During the remainder of the summer the lad
earns the automobile routes through the City of Bos-
on. This is a great feat in itself, as will be attested to by
inyone who has driven through the asphalt-covered
cow paths that wind their way around Boston. All pro-
ceeds from these guided tours go to the sponsor. How-
ever, when the season is over, our newcomer will be on
his own. This is where most of the money is made.
"The amount a young guide charges for his ser-
vices usually ranges from two to three dollars per hour.
There have been many cases where a young boy has
earned enough money by reciting the history and con-
ducting tours through Boston to pay for his clothes
from the time he is eight until he is in his final years of
high school. During the tourist season, earnings for one
day's work in the amount of eleven dollars is not too
unusual. One young lad, at the age of twelve, earned
twenty-five dollars one Saturday. These earnings, less
a few cents for ice cream, coke and other essentials, are
turned over to the boy's parents. Often, the money is
put aside for the youngster's future education.
"As the boy reaches fifteen or sixteen, he begins to
look down on history-telling as kid stuff. The experi-
ence he gained in the years at the monument will nev-
er leave him. Probably the most important thing about
this experience is that the youngster has been working
and earning money for himself and his family. If he is
earning money for his new bike, he doesn't have time
to get into trouble. Still, he receives his fair share of
hard knocks — to learn the history, to be 'Put Up,' to
insure that he isn't badgered out of his share of out-of-
state cars, is indeed a tough row to hoe.
"Some of these boys, fully grown men now, hold
jobs like Treasurer of the State Police, Custom In-
spectors, Chief Postal Inspector, Judges, State Repre-
sentatives and State Senators. One man, Dave Powers,
was Special Assistant to the President of the United
States. I even know of one young fellow who joined the
Navy as an enlisted man, worked his way up and is
now a commissioned officer.
"I think my feelings about Charlestown's Bunker
Hill might be best expressed by paraphrasing an old
saying 'You can take the man out of Charlestown and
away from Bunker Hill, but you can never take
Charlestown out of the man, nor Bunker Hill from
"/';« proud to say I come from Charlestown, I was born and
raised here," says Dan Maguire. Dan was one of eleven
children, ''''and times were tough — but there was nothing de-
pressing about my childhood.'''' One of Dans first jobs, at six-
teen, was on the docks. Now he's an iron worker. He and his
vivacious wife, Greta, enjoy life with their children on Eden
"My father was a milkman. I used to go out with
him on bitter cold mornings. We didn't even have to
use the reins on our horse because he knew the route
around Parker Street. We got up about four o'clock in
late igth century
the morning, went down to Hood's Milk here anc
loaded the wagon. We had to be extremely careful or
icy days. If we were going down steep hills, we used th<
brake drag — a curved, arced hand brake. The hors(
knew we were going down the hill; we'd all just tak(
our time. A couple of times on slippery days, we lef
the wagon at the bottom of the hill. We had to walk up
with milk carriers that held eight quarts of milk, foui
on each side.
"Some of the kids were a little jealous because ]
earned extra pickup money. My father gave me aboui
a dollar a week, which I thought was fabulous at the
time. There were other companies that used to delivei
milk — White's, Hurley's and Whiting's. People used tc
buy extra milk and leave Hurley's and Whiting's bottles
)utside. We collected all the bottles in the dark hall-
vays. At the end of the day, three o'clock in the after-
loon we took all the store bottles and cashed them in
or a nickel each.
"I always played ice hockey, baseball and football
Lt the Barry Playground, nicknamed the 'Oily.' We
lad contests in football, a rivalry between the sections
)f Charlestown. I hung around with some guys; we
:alled ourselves the Hawks. We were a football team, a
)aseball team, an ice hockey team. There were also
he Cobras from Elm Street and the Washington Street
"The only mischief I got into was stealing rides on
he MBTA, the old Boston Elevator. I squeezed the
)ars, and hopped street-cars, and rode up and down
Junker Hill Street, until my father caught me one day.
^e really layed it on me, not so much for riding, but
f I fell off, I would have gone right under the wheels
)f the car.
"I remember one time my brother and I and a kid
lamed Keene went over to South Station and spotted
1 moving train. 'Oh, we'll jump on that.' So we did.
Pretty soon it built up momentum, and we couldn't
jump off. We wound up in Providence, Rhode Island.
I think that was the most exciting ride I have had to
date, but we were scared, we were really scared. We
were afraid to stick our heads out the freight car door.
Finally we went to the Providence police with our tails
between our legs. I learned from experience about
hopping freight cars. I fell ofT one and wound up in
Arlington City Hospital. I still have a scar from it.
"We went swimming down at the 'Oilies,' where
barges came in for E. S. Morse, Glendale, Bashford
and Woodimore to unload their oil. We swam behind
Mishawum Park. I remember two tragedies down
there where ships used to unload timbers, mahogany
timbers. They dumped them in there, crisscross, and
the tide would move them around. When they were
ready to process them through the mill, they took out
one at a time. We used to play down there, not know-
ing the dangers of the tide shifting those logs. One kid
drowned down there. He went down between the logs.
There was no way to get him or hold him.
"I went sledding down Pleasant Street — the street-
car nearly got me once. I came down on a sled one
wintry night and didn't see the streetcar. I veered in
and I hit what they call snappers now. I almost drove
my head through the wall down there.
"Everybody was pretty regular and up and up. But
one of the cops thought it was great to pick on kids —
back-handing them for stealing an apple or an orange
ofT the fruit stands.
"We went about twice a week to the Thompson
Square Theater, which we nicknamed the 'Hippy.'
There was the Hollywood Theater then, too.
"I had my own money from working or saying the
history of the Monument. It wasn't like today — kids
are able to buy Hondas and Kawasakis. I was lucky to
have a two-wheel bicycle.
"My mother always provided ice skates and roller
skates for us. Many nights we used to go to Balaroue in
Medford to roller skate. I was a fancy skater then, but I
wouldn't put skates on now."
Brought up in the West End in "a family that's very sensible
and practical," running a boarding house turned out to be a
natural for Helene Sherkanowski Rush. Mrs.
Rush is a sturdy, deep-voiced woman who thrives on hard work
and common-sense problein solving. She drove a jeep and fork-
lift a couple of years in the Navy Yard. It was there she met her
Mrs. Rush and her sister, Mary Sherkanowski, turned their
boarding house experiences into a best-selling book, Rooms To
Let. Here Mrs. Rush tells how she got into the business that
was to become her life's work and how she came to Charles-
"Little did I know that a simple ad in the Globe
would change the course of my life for the next 30
years. It advertised two large corner rooming houses
opposite the historic Bunker Hill Monument in
Charlestown. I was interested. The town was centrally
located: the Xasy Yard was an asset; and my husband
John and his family were Townies. It was worth con-
"I was impressed by the five-story brick house. It
was solid, imposing, with much granite — a Queen Ann
style. Instantly, I decided to buy it.
"The owners were lovely people and very honest.
Elated, I came to an agreement to buy. The owners
then went into a private huddle and decided to sell
their other house first. I felt bitter disappointment.
Their huge four-stor\-, red brick townhouse was on the
opposite comer. The outside was fairly presentable,
but the interior was deplorable. Still, its ver)' large,
sunny, high-ceilinged rooms, its hardwood floors, mar-
ble fireplaces and cur\ed stairways held a certain
''When I asked the landlady for her lowest price fo3
both properties, the price she quoted was more than 1
could afford and my heart sank.
"Desperately, I thought of all my friends whc
might be interested and found none. Nervously, as 1
opened my purse in search of a cigarette, my long nails
caught in the zipper side-pocket, partly exposing a wad
of bills, which my sister Mary had given me to pur-
chase some jewelr\'.
"Only the night before, Mary had asked me to buy
her a pair of diamond earrings to match her wrist-
watch. She knew I had taken a three-month course in
the study of diamonds and entrusted me with S500 to
"Then a bolt of lightening hit me! My sister was
the best selection for that house. There in my bag was
enough for a down payment. I had her Power of At-
)rney, which I had sometimes used in the past, be-
ause of her mixed time schedules, due to her position
5 a practical nurse. I mused on. Surely, a landlady's
osition would be much easier, more profitable; inter-
sting and even exciting. Best of all, we would be to-
ether. I knew if I called her, Mary would not make a
uick decision on this matter. Taking a deep breath, I
lunared ! Time vv as of the essence !
"When I left the owners, I was walking on air. In
ly bag, I had two sales agreements, drawn by an at-
)rney. I had burned my bridges behind me.
"Riding home in deep thought, I wondered at my
erve, I must have gone mad ! I had not only spent
lary's jewelry money, but worse, I realized it would
ike most of her life's savings to buy, and renovate that
Duse. The thought unnerved me and I dreaded facing
sr with my news.
"At her apartment, she greeted me pleasantly ask-
ig, 'Well, did you have any luck? Did you buy any-
"'Yes, I bought a lovely house on the Square.' In
le next half hour, I gave her all the details.
"'Well I'm very happy for you. I'll take a month's
ave of absence and help you with the moving and
lings. Let's have a highball and celebrate your first
;w home.' She turned and headed for her corner bar
id began to mix the drinks.
"The worst was yet to come.
"'Make mine a double,' I ordered.
'"A double? What's the matter? Don't you feel
'"I'm a little tired,' I mumbled.
" 'Well, that's over with. W'hat else is new?' she
"'I bought you a house,' I answered weakly. She
Dpped and turned.
" 'I must be hearing things. I thought you said you
)ught me a house.' She continued stirring the ice.
" 'I did say it ... I did buy it . . . It's all yours ! Kill
me, if you want. That's it! It's all done! Here is your
legal agreement.' I handed it to her.
"She stared, speechless. She read the agreement she
held in one hand, while she gulped my double highball
in the other.
" 'This is unbelievable! What will I do with an ark
of a house? I have a beautiful apartment, a good job, a
fat bank account, no responsibilities, my freedom; I
was happy. Now, you've changed everything. I just
can't believe it ! What got into you? Why? That's what I
want to know. Why?'
'"Listen, Mary, this will be your very own house,
your own business. You'll be working for yourself;
you'll make good money. It will be easier. We'll be to-
gether and help each other,' and I went on and on and
on . . . far into the night.
"Thirty years have passed ! Mary never got her dia-
mond earrings, but over 10,000 people from all walks
of life, from all over the country and parts of Europe
have lived in our homes. We learned that a sense of
humor is necessary, not only in our business but in life,
for 'It takes all kinds of people to make the world go
Sam Donnell sits with both hands firmly on his knees.
His salt-and-pepper beard, wiry frame and incisive gaze give
him the look of a sea-captain from Boston s China Trade days.
A descendant of a Yankee family from Dedham, tracing back to
Colonial days, he fits into the Charlestown city-scape almost
anachronistically. He talks of restoring the imposing old homes
of Charlestown to what they were in Victorian times.
"One rainy day I walked in the Parish Hall at the
Episcopal Church and said, 'Is the Reverend Cutler
here?' He said yes. He was wearing a linen duster and
pushing a broom, sweeping up the hall.
'"I'm interested in buying a house in Charlestown,
an old one that I can fix up." That's all I was interested
in — old houses — and Charlestown was handy. So I
bought 23 Pleasant Street.
"I lived there four or five years. I bought the lot in
front of it from the City of Boston. They came out and
raised a little red flag and I went out to bid on it. Then
I bought two more houses, moved to the big one and
rented the small one. Later I started to live in this
house. The foundations were gone. When I leaned on
the kitchen sink that was up against it on legs, the
whole thing would fall. So I would have to run out in
the snow and push the side of the house back. I got
heat in it the first winter. None of these houses ever had
any heat. The one next door doesn't have any heat
now. They have a gas heater of some sort.
"I went to work on the yellow house down at 8i
and 1 3^ Warren Street. There's the single house — the
one that was originally built in 1873 with three flats in
it — and then the yellow house which was the first house
on the place. I fixed up those two quite well and I had
a chance to buy these two. The old lady died. She had
lived in the far end of the house and when she died,
her family wanted to get rid of the property. They
asked around and, of course, I was the logical one to
buy it. I went and bought the two with the money I in-
herited, twenty- five hundred dollars, and I've been
fixing them up ever since.
"The houses are all built around an empty lot. I
built a nice garden there. It used to be a public dump
for the street. Everybody threw tin cans rocks, every-
thing they didn't want in there. We hauled two old
cars out of it years ago, before I put a fence up. I
wouldn't put a fence up till I owned the land.
"Charlestown joined Boston to get public utilities,
new ones. We never got any till recently. The City of
Boston was supposed to put in new sewers and all this
business. They never did. They just took over Charles-
town and collected taxes from it. There aren't any fire
departments practically. The city keeps taking them
out and sending them to Brighton and everywhere
else. There was one down by the project and a couple
on side streets but they're all gone. They sent them
somewhere else, closed them up.
"Charlestown's been resettled, you might sa^t
about three or four times. Originally, by the Yankee:
A lot of them left at the time of the Revolution, afte
the town burned. Then a new batch came by. The
lived here till about 1840 or '50. And a lot of the Iris,
came. And after the Irish, a lot of people from Nov
Scotia came. They were English or Irish, either om
but usually Protestants. They usually inter-marric'
"A lot of people moved out. As they got marriec
the young people went off" to live in Billerica and Wil
mington and other suburbs. They were living in th
country. Charlestown's the only place they have neigh
bors they've known all their lives. They want to be nea
them. So they want to come back and there aren'
enough houses. People are coming in, buying house
and fixing them up. We're having a migration."
The son of Irish immigrants, Lyons moved awayfroi
his native Charlestown in igj2 and returned tliree years agt
His father worked longshore and his mother cleaned building
to help the family through the Great Depression. He remember
hard times, as well as a close family life and community celt\
"As a teen I didn't have too much time to play,
had to work. But there was some social life. I was a ball
room dancer. That was my fun.
"The churches had their activities. They had socia
dances and they used to put on minstrel shows at St
Mary's, St. Catherine's and St. Francis's.
"We had movie houses and three ballrooms in thi
town at one time: Roughan, Hibernian and Cottoi
"A lot of young people went to the Bunker Hil
Monument on dates.
"On Bunker Hill Day in the 1 920's we used to havi
a horrible parade and a fireman's parade, and the pa
rade in the afternoon would last until about fivi
o'clock. The Knights of Columbus had a bancjuet be
fore the seventeenth of June, a big time at the Armory
iturday morning at the Farmer's Market on Adams Street, ig§i
won a big cup in the waltz contest with my wife. The
ast big party they had there was in 1952. That was the
ame year I left. Vaughn Munroe was the orchestra
:ader. My wife and I won the waltz contest that night.
"Christmas was always celebrated here as a big
oing. Not as elaborate then as today. In those days we
lad little candles on our Christmas trees and had to be
areful not to set fire to our houses.
"Easter — all the mothers and dads made sure their
hildren were dressed to the highest fashion and hoped
!: would be a good Sunday.
"We had rallies for politicians when I was a teen-
ger. Congressman Flaherty used to borrow my truck
D have his rallies on. He put a piano on it and we'd
ing. There were rallies in Sullivan Square, City
quare, Thompson Square and Doheirty Park. Rallies
n every corner. Lots of people came. It was like a pa-
"Bond Bread was first known as Fox's Bakery.
Then it became the General Baking Co. and, finally,
Bond Bread. They had a barn where they used to shoe
"When I was a youngster, we didn't have any trou-
ble in this town. Because mom or dad made sure they
kne\v where their kids were. This town and the North
End were known as the two best little areas in the city
with very little delinquency. Children knew what to
expect. The neighbors would spank them. Kids didn't
get away with anything in those days. Everything was
under control. That's the difference in the town
today. . .
"We got up in the morning at seven o'clock. School
was at nine. And we'd hurry. We didn't have showers.
We washed in a big tub. We cleaned up and put on
shirts that had been ironed the night before. We went
up the street to school, the Old Kent School. It's still
there. Kids today get a break if it snows or rains. But
we couldn't stay home. And we enjoyed going up the
street in the snow. I enjoyed going to school. I loved
"Church was more important then. I graduated
from Catechism and then went two years to Bible His-
tory. We were told to go. And we went. Things have
changed. Today children go to church not even
dressed up. It's a pity. I had to wear a necktie and a
starched shirt to church when I was a youngster. Fa-
ther McCoy was the pastor at St. Catherine's. He new
every kid who went to Confession. He'd be at your
house to tell you didn't go. They had one of the most
beautiful choirs. The church was packed to the rafters
every Sunday upstairs and downstairs, from 6:30 to
1 1 :3o. Now it's like a moi-gue. There's nobody in there.
People don't go to church like they used to. They don't
"None of the oldtimers are left. Fm one of the old-
timers of the children of the oldtimers that were here.
There's very few of us Townies still living here."
Ellie Marino represents the third generation of her fam-
ily to grow up in Charlestown; her mother, now 81, has lived
in the town since she was three years old. Mrs. Marino is one of
a family of ten. She has six brothers and three sisters. Like her
father and her grandfather before him, three of her brothers
"Before the housing project came in, this was a
beautiful little town. When I was small, we lived out
on Bainbridge Street, down at Hay Square. But the
federal authorities took over the parcel of land where
we lived for a housing project.
"Urban renewal was something that you thought
you read in a magazine — this couldn't actually hap-
pen. The town was divided in half Even now, there's
a little resentment.
"When urban renewal began I was 100% for it, be-
cause we did need something. We needed a face lift.
Urban renewal was going to rehabilitate people's
homes and help the little people out, the poor people
The houses would all be remodeled, I figured.
"When they first started urban renewal, we ha
meetings to see who was going to be in charge. Com
to find out, that had been decided in the Mayor's ofiic
about four months before we realized what was goin
"They gave a book to all the people. The print wa
so fine, not many people could read or understand il
This booklet had a map which said only a few house
were to be torn down. When the bigger map came oul
it showed quite a few houses. Mine was one, so, natur
ally, I was pretty upset.
"Finally, we took it to City Hall. You wouldn't be
lieve what happened there. The majority of the peopl
that went into City Hall were against urban renewal
Only a handful were for it. But the day the vote wa
supposed to take place, we knew what was going ti
"As a result, we started a self-help organization
We wanted to do rehabilitation ourselves. Give us th(
money, but don't tear down good homes! Get the fed
eral government out ! We made up our own newspapei
and called it The Minuteman. We went around door-to-
door and passed it out. On Friday night, we baked up
cakes and sold them at our self-help organization. This
is how we raised money for our attorneys.
"We sent to Washington for all the by-laws, all the
facts on urban renewal, and we realized urban renewal
wasn't going to help the little people.
"The whole town would have been levelled if it
weren't for the people of the self-help organization. We
saved quite a few of the homes in our town. If it
weren't for the self-help organization we would have
had another West End !
"The majority of the people that were in the organ-
ization are still living in the town. The majority of the
people that were for urban renewal are living out of
"Since urban renewal came in, we don't have the;
ood old Charlestown. On a Saturday night on Main
itreet years ago, there'd be forty, fifty families walking
round doing their shopping. Everybody was sociable,
"oday, you don't find two people walking along. We
on't have the bars we used to have, like the Shamrock
'^illage down on Hancock Square. It was a place to
ine and dance and eat. Everyone got together. Years
go, we had two theatres. We went to the movies on a
unday afternoon. We got an extra candy bar if two
at on the same chair together — that's how many peo-
ple used to fill the Thompson Square Theatre ! Today
!e don't have a theatre here. In our teens, we had a
owling alley here, but today we don't. Yet, we have
fvelve leagues that commute out of town. When my
wn children were growing up, they had the Girl's
-lub. But today we don't. We don't have any of these
things for children, and people wonder why all the kids
hang on the street corners !
"The BRA has done more damage to the town
than good. Before urban renewal came in, we had the
five-and-ten and a lot of different places to shop down
on Main Street. All those stores are now boarded up.
The owners didn't know whether they were going to be
taken by eminent domain or not. Finally, they went
out of business. Now we have two stores in the whole
"The only thing urban renewal did for Charles-
town was to help the bankers and developers. They
claim this is progress! To tell you the truth, I think
we're going backwards instead of forward.
"This is the only area of Charlestown where there
is no urban renewal and that's why I bought my prop-
erty here. It's a nice area — we all have gardens in
front of our houses and everybody keeps their property
"As we tried to say that day in City Council, we do
not need more projects. I think the little people are
just as good as the rich people. They shouldn't be all
blocked together. If they lived next to someone who
had a nice home, one would help the other out, like
when we grew up. There were some that were well-to-
do and some that were poor, but one would help the
other out. You wouldn't find any place better than
Charlestown. It is the prime land of Boston. This is
why I fought so long for the town. I was born here, I'm
here and I'm here to stay."
Marie Alves is a homemaker and lifetime resident of
Charlestown. Her six brothers and sisters have moved away
from the town, but Marie likes her life here and is committed
to the community, playing a primary role in many neighborhood
organizations. Sheila Nevin is a young single woman,
who moved to Charlestown almost by chance, and feels pro-
tected and accepted in a neighborhood where everybody knows
everybody else." Maurice Dullea was attracted by the
town's architecture. He's lived here almost six years, and plans
to stay 'for the foreseeable future." The three talk with one
another about Charlestown' s pluses and minuses and what it
means to be a Townie.
Maurice: "I'm a city planner and I liked the
characteristics that I saw in Charlestown. It has what
I consider a liveable scale. It hasn't been changed a
great deal. People who've been in Charlestown a long
period of time think the changes brought about by ur-
ban renewal have been extensive. But having been able
to look at Charlestown from a distance and seeing what
urban renewal has done to other sections of Boston and
elsewhere, I realized that this was basically still a small
village in a large city. There was already a small com-
munity of young professionals when I moved in and, in
the past five years, I'd say it has grown considerably.
If you tried to meet and get to know every new perso
in town, you just couldn't do it."
Sheila: "I've lived in Charlestown for about tw
years. I came here from Melrose only because I foun,
a pretty good apartment for little money and I wante
to live in town. I had no intention of living in Charle:
town. I went to school in Boston. I used to take th
train through Charlestown everyday and I was alwa)
impressed coming home from school at night when
looked at the sunset on Bunker Hill. In my neighboi
hood everybody knows everybody else and everybod'
knows, me. It's just outside of Thompson Square. As
understand it, just about everyone is related to ever)
one else with the exception of myself. I haven't reall
met that many people in Charlestown my own ag(
but I work outside and most of my friends are peopl
that I've gone to school and grown up with. They liv;
in other parts of Boston. It's unfortunate. There don i
seem to be many people here in their middle or lat
twenties who are single."
Maurice: "Maybe I've gotten myself into mor,
activities and organizations than Sheila, but I've foun'
a rather pleasant mix of older people, younger peopk>
people in between, male people, female people, long
time residents and new arrivals. That's the kind c
composition of the Preservation Society, in Charles
town 200 and The Bunker Hill Museum, organization
that I've been active in."
Marie: "When I first got married, my husban<
was going to night-school in Boston and we foum
Charlestown very convenient, so we decided to sta
until he finished school. Charlestown was just in th
grip of urban renewal and we thought it could be :
better place. A lot of old buildings really needed to b
taken down and a lot of new buildings should hav
been put up. I'm well satisfied that we've stayed. Mos
of my friends and family have moved out."
Maurice: "I can't really say that I'm close t<
many of the long-time residents that I met. I've en
'Jeduatiuii nj liuuitng project, kj-^i
:ountered a little hostility but not a great deal. People
ire usually friendly. The people that I've become most
riendly with have been people that are more or less my
3wn age, more or less professionals. But I'm sure if my
jxperiences were limited to that alone I would have
noved out by now. I like the mix and the diversity of
Marie: "We stayed because we felt we had some-
thing to offer to the community. We felt that we could
impress upon people the historical wealth that is here.
If anyone has a problem in this town, people will un-
derstand it and help you. If you just had a baby, there
will be somebody to help you; if it's me busing situa-
tion, people will understand it's your choice to think
as you wish. Urban renewal has divided the town.
There's still some hard feelings, but people haven't
stopped talking to each other."
Maurice: "My impression of the effect of renewal
on Charlestown, apart from the physical changes, is
that people have been forced to deal with a rather
anonymous, autonomous institution, the BRA, which
isn't the sort of organization the people in Charlestown
are used to. They're used to dealing directly with City
Hall through whatever contacts and political pull they
had. BRA is a separate kind of organization that they
haven't been able to confront and communicate with
as successfully. This has probably created a good deal
Marie: "When urban renewal first came to
Charlestown I lived in an area I knew would be de-
molished, on Main Street across from Westland Ave-
nue. At the very beginning, twelve years ago, urban re-
newal authorities told us we were going to be dis-
placed. I really feel that urban renewal was much dif-
ferent then. People can pick up the phone now and
talk to Arthur Riley at the BRA. Before, you were al-
most afraid to call.
"I think the new professional people in Charles-
town have added a lot. One new person that's moved
into town whom I've felt very close to is Joe Conley.
He's done a lot of art work and this past spring I had
him design a garden for me. He collected all the old
cobblestones from Charlestown so we could use them.
He did a fantastic job."
Maurice: "Maybe one of the effects of the recent
influx of professional, business and skilled people has
been to show people who live here that many from the
outside world see something great about Charlestown.
A lot of new people are Townies in spirit, people who
care about their community. A friend of mine who has
lived here thirty-five years says she's still not a Townie.
Yet she has put her heart and soul into the town and its
organizations. She's helped where she could."
Sheila: "I think of a Townie as someone who
represents the best and worst of Charlestown. The kid
in my neighborhood — their language and manners an(
everything about them — is Charlestown. When
moved in the neighborhood kids spoke so very politel
to me. Even now, they come over and carry in my gro
ceries. But when I listen to them talking to each othei
the language is so foul — they're only about twelve an(
listen to them! It's interesting because they react tc
different ages so differently."
Maurice: "I consider Charlestown the way
consider a good friend — someone I like being with an(
respect and feel free to criticize at the same time. Peo
pie are discovering Charlestown. People from outsidi
will continue to move into Charlestown because it i
like an antique. As Charlestown continues to gain pop
ularity, people who have lived here because they havi
been able to afTord it will be priced out. The diversity
will increase at the expense of a lot of people. Charles
town has a special charm of its own — people trustint
each other. As the place opens up I don't see how it cai
stay at the same level. People don't trust outsiders a
much as those they have seen around all their lives.'
Mention Charlestown in Roslindale, Dorchester, or any section
of the city, and someone is sure to say, "Oh! you must knou
Mary Colbert." In many ways, Mary is the best o
Charlestown — warm, full of energy and good humor. It wa.
Mary who started the Doll-Carriage Parade on Bunker Hil
Day and who helped give a young Congressman his start inpol
itics. Mary has always managed to be there in any town emer-
gency. A couple of years ago she was instrumental in getti?u
free city mini-bus service for the elderly. And when the "El'
finally met its death last summer, Mary, who's been working;
toward that moment for 60 years, broke a champagne bottle
agairut the first girder to be taken down.
A petite woman with well-ordered, snow-white hair, bril-
liant blue eyes and firm, determined posture, Mrs. Colbert, ai
86, is still, as her countless admirers attest, "a beauty."
"My mother was born in 1859 on Moulton Street.
Her brother was one of the bakers at the George Fox
indergarten class of igo^—Oj in the old Training Field School on Common Street
akery on Edgewood Street. For years and years, he
orked there. My grandmother Hved near where Mc-
artney's Store is now, on Hunter Street, and, after-
ards, when my mother's brother married, he had a
3use on Hunter Street. So they really were ground
"My father's people were the Coughlins. They
came over in the old sailing vessels. Took them I don't
know how many weeks to cross. My grandmother
came from Killarney and my grandfather came from
"I was born in 1890, right on Main Street. Next
door, they had a musical instrument place and that's
where I was born, upstairs in that house. I was born in
the valley and moved to the hill section. I spent all of
my childhood living in Gharlestown.
"My mother was up in the morning when we came
down to breakfast. On the back of the stove, she'd have
three apple pies already cooked, a bunch of biscuits, a
loaf of gingerbread.
"I can see her now . . . She was 74 when she died
and nobody could ever do anything for her: she did all
her own washing and she didn't have the things to do it
with that we have today. She didn't have electric
Baseball team, igii
lights, but I can remember her having a little old-fasb
ioned lamp with a little candle on the side. Our bee
rooms were on the third floor and when we went to be^
at night we took this little lamp up through the hal,
"I often wonder when I see the conveniences th,
kids have today, how our mothers did what they die
Maybe Mrs. O'Brien or Mrs. Walsh was ill and he
kids went to school with us. When we came home a;
noon, besides having a pot of beef stew for us, sh'
would have a pot for that lady's children. 'Mary, takj
hat in to Mrs. O'Brien's house.' We don't see any of
hat today — everybody's so busy.
"My mother was a lot hke myself, interested in
vhat went on in the district. Things were different;
here was a much closer neighborhood association. My
nother always worked for different societies, like the
barney Hospital or St. Mary's Infant Asylum. She al-
v-ays had something to do and she had something for
ne to do after school. I always did errands for her.
"When it was suppertime, we sat down and ate our
upper. There were four of us children, three girls and
he boy, and after supper, that's where we belonged,
round the table in the house. My mother would tell
"We really didn't look for recreation on the outside
t that time; we were kept pretty busy by what went on
1 the district.
"I can remember Pearl Street. The snow was al-
ways so high once winter came we hardly ever walked
n the sidewalk. We walked along those high mounds
f snow. The streets were always full of snow, nothing
ke it is now — we don't know what it is to really have a
"And I can remember the streetcars, the open cars,
a Bunker Hill Street. They fitted about sLx or seven
I the seat and we had to step up on the floor first and
len into the street-car. Oh, I can just see that car
jming down Bunker Hill Street now.
"There was always something at the church to
;ep the kids interested: shows, operettas and different
lings. We had Saturday morning classes to prepare
r first Communion and Confirmation. Two o'clock
I the afternoon, we went to church for confession and
e usually had a choir rehearsal with the nuns. Sunday
lorning we got up for Mass and stayed for catechism,
inday afternoon, we went to instructions and bene-
"In the summer, we had an opportunity to do bun-
e girls' work. I can remember Hoose and Hender-
son's at the corner of Temple Place, opposite Jordan's.
A couple of summers before I graduated from high
school, I went in there. The salary we got hardly paid
for lunch, but, nevertheless, it kept us busy.
"I met my husband in the bowling alley. Mr. Col-
bert belonged to the Knights of Columbus. At that
time, we had four teams bowling in the Knights of
Columbus Hall. He kept score for my sister's team.
There was a girl on my team — all the men needed to
say to her was, 'Now right down the alley, Mona' and,
she'd get so nervous, the ball would miss. It got so that
one night I turned around and said, 'Now why don't
you keep still and leave her alone?'
"This night he walked up the street with me. I said,
'Oh, it's too bad that some of those men don't keep
their mouths shut.' He stood outside the door talking
and he said, 'Would you be busy next Sunday night?'
And I said, 'Oh, yes I am.' He walked off. Shortly
afterwards, another night, he walked up with me and
the first thing I knew, he was inviting me out. I went
with him maybe two-and-a-half years or more.
"My husband thought the valley was the only
place in the world — it's where he came from. And I'd
say, 'Don't forget, you came up the hill to get some-
body when you wanted to get married!'
"He'd say, 'I used to deliver papers ... at Larell's
on Pearl Street ... I suppose you were the dirty-faced
"And I said, 'Oh, no I wasn't.' There were two
sisters besides me and when we would come down the
street, the boys would be at the corner. My sisters
would go by. They might say hello . . . walk along. Of
course, I'd come along and say, 'Oh, how are you?' He
thought, here's the sister that talks to people. The other
two are stuck-up. That was the reputation I had.
"My first involvement in politics was on an awful
cold night ... I think it was Curley's very first cam-
paign. I was to meet a girl on Bunker Hill Street and
we went to the Globe. At that time, it was on Washing-
ton Street and they flashed the returns, ward by ward,
on the outside.
"I was involved in the Roosevelt campaign in 1932.
I remember when Rooseveh won. I didn't think I
should just take off" and go to Washington to the inau-
guration. So Mr. Colbert said, 'You go ahead, you go
with them.' So I went to that first inauguration. I can
still see Jimmy Roosevelt coming in with his father. I
Electricity class at the Charlestown Boys Club, igo
went to all of his inaugurations and I went to Tru
man's, Eisenhower's and Kennedy's.
"I was a very hard worker for Jack Kennedy. Ir
fact, a hassock that's down in the cellar was the firs
place he sat in this room and talked about whether h(
was going to run for local office or take a crack at Con-
"I said to him, 'Knowing your background, ]
hink that you would be wise to go for Congress, rather
han for the focal sect. You're going to have a lot of
leadaches in the state and maybe you'll have them in
Vashington, but it will be different.' He said, 'When I
lake up my mind, I'll call you.'
"Ten days afterwards, he called me to go to the
iellevue. I went in and he said, 'I'm going to run for
>ongress. I'd like you to work with Dave Powers.' We
pened the first headquarters down at the corner of
Valker and Main Streets. Charlestown was one of the
rst places, and he never forgot it.
"The first year he was elected to Congress, he evi-
ently had some Hotel Bellevue paper with him on
Jew Year's Eve and he sat down and wrote a letter,
le said, 'This is a long-belated letter. I should have
•ritten it long ago, but I figured that I'd be able to get
1 contact with you personally and see you. I could not
;t 1 946 go by without thanking you for what you did
)r me and letting you know that one of the things that
ands out most in my whole campaign is the friend-
lip I made with you and Syl.' I treasure that paper.
"I don't think anybody sold Jack Kennedy; he sold
imself. He came over here, he went aroimd to the dif-
rent clubs and to the mothers in their houses and
)oke. His brother and his father visited the place sev-
-al times. We had a very active committee for him
ere. . .
"I've been 14 years the state treasurer for the Dis-
aled American Veterans and am still going on with
. I belong to the American Legion. I served six years
[Jamaica Plain Hospital on a closed ward.
"Mrs. Corwin and I were the two people on the
ed Cross Disaster Team for Charlestown. We went
at on every second- or third-alarm fire. W'e had a pass
) go through the lines. We used to go down on Ruford
venue and set up a stand. We'd serve hot coffee and
)mato juice, to cut the smoke. Many's the night we
ent. I can recall one night ... I had a black and
hite hat — it was all white facing — and I wore it down
Snow fort, igSo
to the fire . . . When I got home that night the whole
hat was black.
"I think we hear a lot of people say they're bored
and lonely. There's ample opportunity for them to give
a few days or minutes and go through those places and
see what good they could do. I don't do these things to
get something in return. I feel that if I am able, if
someone at sometime or other needs something in one
of these places, that I've been able to do a little bit for
them. That's been my secret of hard work."
Ordinance Park, Charlestown Navy Yard, mid igth century
Katie Kenneally, writer, project coordinator
Joan Fitzgerald, copy editor
Jan Coras h, photographic editor
Harron Ellenson, director Boston 200
Michael and Winifred Bixler, typography
ACKNO WLEDGMENTS: The experience and insights of many Charlestown residents contributed
to the making of this history. We would Hke to thank especially Miss Gaynell Mathson and Mrs.
Roberta Rothwell of the Boston Public Library for the use of their historical research, Charles-
town 200, Greta Maguire, president, and its booklet committee, Marie Alves, chairperson,
Maurice Dullea, Sheila Nevin, Pat Harrington and the following participants: Jack Alves,
Linda Bourke, Mary Colbert, James Conway, Mary Cullity, Joseph CuUity, Sam Donnell,
Mary Gillen, Robert Gillen, Patricia Kelley, Joseph H. Kolb, Mary Lassen, Joseph Lyons,
Daniel Maguire, Ellie Marino, Dale Rosen, Helene Rush, Nina Solomita, and Jean Weinshel.
PHOTO CREDITS: Photographs are used courtesy of the Boston Public Library. They are part of
the extensive collection of glass slides donated to the library by the late Reverend William B.
Cutler of Charlestown.
SPONSORS: The Boston Neighborhood Histories Project was made possible through the support of:
The Blanchard Foundation, the Godfrey M. Hyams Trust, the Massachusetts Bicentennial
Commission, Workingmens Co-operative Bank, and the people of the City of Boston.
Boston enjoys an international reputation as the birthplace of our American
Revolution. Today, as the nation celebrates its 200th anniversary, that struggle
for freedom again draws attention to Boston. The heritage of Paul Revere, Sam
Adams, Faneuil Hall and Bunker Hill still fire our romantic imaginations.
But a heritage is more than a few great names or places — it is a culture,
social history and, above all, it is people. Here in Boston, one of our most cher-
ished traditions is a rich and varied neighborhood life. The history of our neigh-
borhood communities is a fascinating and genuinely American story — a story
of proud and ancient peoples and customs, preserved and at the same time
transformed by the American urban experience.
So to celebrate our nation's birthday we have undertaken to chronicle
Boston's neighborhood histories. Compiled largely from the oral accounts of
living Bostonians, these histories capture in vivid detail the breadth and depth
of our city's complex past. They remind us of the most important component
of Boston's heritage — people,which is, after all,what the Bicentennial is all about.
Kevin H. White, Mayor